Cubs

Wood leaves money on table

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Wood leaves money on table

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The memories flooded Kerry Woods mind at Holy Name Cathedral, seeing all those old teammates and Cubs officials at Ron Santos funeral. After the service, Wood and his wife Sarah began discussing the remote possibility of returning to where they started.

Jim Hendry can still hear Santos voice whenever Wood walked down the aisle of the team plane after a win: Hey, big boy, hell of a job. When Hendry left Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and the winter meetings last week, he thought he had no chance of signing the free-agent reliever.

Wood and Hendry greeted each other at Santos funeral and spoke later that night during Ryan Dempsters charity event at D'Agostino's, a pizza joint not far from Wrigley Field. This was the message Wood gave the general manager: Trust me, its not going to cost you as much as you think.

Seven days later, there was Wood pulling on a No. 34 jersey at a stadium club news conference and Hendry beaming at the one-year, 1.5 million deal.

Trust is what their relationship is built upon. Hendry joined the organization in November 1994 and months later, the Cubs made Wood the fourth overall pick in the draft and, over time, a very rich man.

Wood has already made close to 70 million in his career, according to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com. In turning down multi-year offers elsewhere, and presumed interest from the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox, Wood made a lifestyle choice.

Its reasonable to think that he could have guaranteed himself 10 million more on the open market. But he and his wife want to continue raising their three children in Chicago.

Its never been about the money for me, Wood said Friday. Its about being home.

While theres no formal agreement in place to define Woods post-playing career, Hendry sees him as a potential special assistant in the front office, like Greg Maddux, or a face for the community-relations department. Wood, who will turn 34 next summer, met with chairman Tom Ricketts this week to discuss his future in the organization.

I plan on being a Cub for the rest of my life, Wood said. Were rooted here. Were not going anywhere.

No one wanted to go too deep on Woods retirement, because the Cubs really need him to stay healthy and dominate the eighth inning. The deal contains modest incentives based on games saved should closer Carlos Marmol get hurt and Wood becomes the closer.

But it left enough financial room for the Cubs to keep looking for another starting pitcher. One source said that theyre not close to finalizing an agreement with Brandon Webb, and that the Yankees havent called about Carlos Zambrano, who has a no-trade clause and also wants to stay in Chicago.

The tremendous way that (Wood) allowed us to do the contract enables us to go out and do a few more things hopefully before the start of camp, Hendry said. He didnt come back here to be on a fifth-place team.

The rotation could be strengthened by converting Andrew Cashner, another first-round pick from Texas who can throw 100 mph heat. Wood will be seen as a positive, calming influence on a young bullpen and a clubhouse that could use another leader. But its not like he will be paid to coach.

No offense to Cashner, Wood said, (but) I wasnt signing to help him out.

Its not even Christmas and the Cubs have already addressed their two biggest offseason needs with creative one-year deals. By giving first baseman Carlos Pena a 2 million signing bonus and a deferred 5 million payment that will be delivered in January 2012, Hendry bought himself some flexibility.

Combined Pena and Wood are due 4.5 million in 2011. By comparison, reliever John Grabow will make 4.8 million next season.

It might not seem like such a bargain if Wood goes on the disabled list for the 15th time in his career, but on Friday afternoon nobody around the Cubs wanted to think like that.

Wood thrived in New York as Mariano Riveras setup man (0.69 ERA in 24 games) after a deadline deal with the Indians and until last week, that seemed like a logical destination.

But Wood never wanted to leave Chicago where he was a Rookie of the Year and made two All-Star teams in the first place. He put a price on his sense of belonging.

And from the sadness of Santos death emerged a happy reunion that neither side saw coming.

Nobody loved Kerry Wood more than Ron Santo, Hendry said. In some strange way, I really believe that this wouldnt have happened if we hadnt hooked up at the church.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Former Cubs pitcher Dan Straily, now in KBO, details games without fans

Cubs fans may remember Dan Straily. The right-hander pitched for the club in 2014, making seven appearances (one start) before getting dealt to the Houston Astros the ensuing offseason in the Dexter Fowler trade.

Straily now pitches for the Lotte Giants in the KBO, South Korea's highest level of pro ball. The league kicked its season off earlier this month without fans in attendance, a model MLB will likely follow for most (if not all) of its potential 2020 season.

Jon Frankel, a correspondent for HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," recently interviewed current and former KBO players about the league's return during the coronavirus pandemic. In an excerpt made available via press release, Frankel asked Straily if he misses playing in front of a crowd.

MORE: Why one medical expert remains skeptical of MLB's COVID-19 precautions

"Of course. Like, even if you're on the road, and people are just telling you how much you suck — you thrive off it," Straily said. "You feed off that energy.”

Crowd noise obviously plays a big part in an athlete's adrenaline. Not having that factor will be an adjustment for MLB in 2020, and Straily took things a step further regarding the circumstances players face without fans in attendance.

“My shortstop dove for a ball. And he missed it by, like, an inch," he said. "Like, it was an incredible effort. When he hit the ground, I heard the air leave his lungs. And we've talked about that in the dugout. Because I've never once in my life heard that.”

Not having crowds to drown out on-field noise could make for a unique viewing experience for fans at home. UFC returned on May 9, and many punches and kicks were audible on ESPN's TV broadcast.

MLB teams could play proxy crowd noise in games, but nevertheless, fans may pickup noises on their TVs previously unavailable from home.

The full episode will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. CT on HBO.

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How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

How lessons from the KBO and Javy Báez can fix MLB's aging fan base problem

The cheer master’s whistle echoed through the ballpark, and dinosaur mascots wearing giant face masks danced on top of the dugout.

With fans absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s scene didn’t quite do the Korean Baseball Organization experience justice. But it was still the league that taught Ryan Sadowski how to let loose on the field.

"I found that as a player I didn't allow myself to enjoy my success the way I should have because it's the game of baseball,” Sadowski told ESPN in 2016. “You're not supposed to show that you enjoy your success. I think it's something I learned here (in Korea), that I would take to younger kids in the States."

Major League Baseball is well aware that its status in the United States will continue to slip if it can’t figure out how to reach a younger audience. This summer presents an opportunity. If the players and owners can agree to a deal that makes the league’s early July target date a reality, for weeks it will be the only major sport on television.

Sports fans are clamoring for action after a months-long drought. What better time to draw in new fans? In that regard, the KBO could have something to teach MLB.

Sadowski is in a unique position to compare the KBO and MLB. He played in both leagues before becoming a KBO scout. Sadowski’s support for on-the-field expression is one Cubs shortstop Javier Báez would likely get behind.

Báez had a message similar to Sadowski's on MLB’s YouTube channel recently. In a show taped during Spring Training, Báez chatted with Puerto Rican recording artist Residente while running the Grammy Award-winner through baseball drills.

“In my personal opinion, I would like to teach young people growing up to enjoy [the game],” Báez said in Spanish. “And if they fail, fail having fun. And keep doing what is right. Let the kids play.”

Báez has been criticized for his playing style, most famously in 2018 when he bat-flipped after a popup. Afterward, former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle questioned Báez's “respect for the game.”

But Báez's huck wouldn’t have been out of place in Sunday’s KBO game between the NC Dinos and Hanwhu Eagles. The broadcast didn’t feature the kind of ostentatious bat flips that have become so popular on social media. But still, in consecutive innings, players on both teams tossed their bats several feet up the baseline to punctuate base hits. No uproar ensued.

The rate at which KBO bat flips have spread through Twitter speaks to a hunger for showboating among young baseball fans. Why not embrace it?   

“It’s not that it is not the correct way of doing it,” Báez told Residente of his playing style. “It’s just not the way many coaches teach it.”

In the United States, the NBA is the poster child for attracting millennial fans. In 2017-18, young adults led the league’s growth in ratings, according to Forbes. TV viewership among 18- to 34-year-olds was up 14 percent.

The NBA does an especially good job marketing its stars. Admittedly, the game lends itself to that strategy in a way that baseball does not. LeBron James can take over any game down the stretch, but Mike Trout isn’t going to get an at-bat every time the winning run is in scoring position.

But there are other ways NBA stars capture the fascination of young fans. Kids across the country grew up shrugging like Michael Jordan or pumping their arms and pounding their chests like LeBron James.  They take deep dives into YouTube, watching the most devastating dunks of all time – the more embarrassing for the defender, the better. None of that disrespects the game. The NBA and KBO have that in common.

MLB doesn’t have to adopt the KBO’s use of specific chants for each batter and embrace bat flipping for everything from home runs to ground outs – even though, by all accounts, those elements create a delightfully raucous atmosphere.

MLB doesn’t have to abolish baseball’s unwritten rules in one day. But an amendment is in order.

What if demonstrative zeal was instead embraced as a sign of respect for the game? After all, it might be MLB’s best hope of connecting to the next generation.